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Eat This Now for the Week of 06/24/14

cherries

Eat This Now | June 24th, 2014

Rainier CherriesPlumsAthena CantaloupesLocal BeetsSeedless Mini Cucumbers

best if used by 07/01/14

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Rainier Cherries

Peak Season    Best Flavor

I consider Rainier Cherries to be one of the gourmet candies of the fruit world. They’re like an irresistible produce delicacy. Rainiers (aka Gold Cherries) are so plump, juicy and sweet that I have a hard time with self-control when it’s just me and a bowl full of them.

So, what’s the big deal? Rainier Cherries are super-sweet, juicy and bursting with bright flavor. This type of sweet cherry is characterized by yellow flesh, high sugar content and gold skin blushed with patches of bright red. The amount of redness is not an indicator of sweetness. Yes, they are pricier than Dark Sweet Cherries (which are also at their best, by the way), but it’s nice to splurge on a seasonal treat from time to time. Organic and conventional Rainier Cherries are in peak season from the mountain slopes and valleys of eastern Washington now through mid to late July. The quality and flavor so far this season have been amazing!

Tips

  • Sticker-shock? Even during peak season, Cherries can surprise you at the register, so buy smart. Most Rainier Cherries are sold in smaller bags and pouches that weigh around 1.2-1.5lb. The average random-weight bag on display for Dark Sweet Cherries weighs about 2.2lb. Bagged Cherries are sold by the pound, so do the math or check a scale to know about what you’re going to pay in total.
  • Selecting: Carefully inspect all sides of the Cherry packages to avoid wetness or splits. If the Cherries are in a bag, give a couple a gentle squeeze – you’ll want them to feel firm.
  • Storage: Keep Cherries cold in the fridge and use them within a few days of purchase for the best texture. Rinse Cherries just before use and put whatever you don’t eat back in the refrigerator.

Cherry gold! Sweet, plump and juicy Rainier Cherries are a produce delicacy – available from late June through July. WARNING: Rainier Cherries may cause compulsive fruit snacking.

Plums

Peak Season    Best Flavor

A good Plum is succulent and nicely sweet, maybe lightly tangy too – perfect for desserts and snacking. Give organic and conventional Black or Red Plums a try this week. The early summer varieties are in peak season from orchards in the San Joaquin valley of California – some with white flesh, some with red flesh.

Tips

  • How do you find a good one? Select Plums that don’t feel rock hard, but are not soft and squishy either. It doesn’t hurt to ask the produce manager for a sample either.
  • Store Plums you plan to eat soon at room temperature for a day. You can eat them firm but just a little give is ideal for a juicy-sweet eating experience. Once at that stage you can get another couple days out of them in the fridge.
  • What is that powder-like film on the skin? It’s called “bloom.” Bloom is a natural, protective wax that forms on the fruit as it grows on the tree. When you rub a Plum or Pluot it gets it’s shine from the bloom.

Love plums, but hoping for an extra flavor bump? Try Pluots (aka Plumcots) or Black Velvet Apricots! Stay tuned for more about Pluots, like the ruby red-fleshed Plumogranate variety, in coming weeks.

Recipe: Sweet & Tangy Plum Salsa

  1. Step 1 – Produce Prep.
    • 2lb of Tomatoes (like 1 cluster of Vine Tomatoes), washed, core stem area, cut into wedges
    • 3-4 Plums or Pluots, washed, pit removed, cut into wedges (Plums can be substituted)
    • 1 medium-large Sweet Onion, skin removed, cut into wedges
  2. Dicing
    • In a blender or food processor-separately pulse prepped Tomatoes, Plums and Sweet Onion until diced
    • Place diced ingredients in a large mixing bowl
    • Empty bowl contents into a colander to strain excess juice for about 10-15 seconds
  3. Seasoning
    • Return strained ingredients to the large bowl
    • Add .75 oz (about a handful) of fresh Cilantro, finely chopped
    • Sprinkle with Salsa Seasoning until evenly covered. I used about 1oz of Mrs. Wages Salsa Mix. (Salt, Pepper, Cheyenne Pepper, Cumin, Garlic Powder could be used instead)
  4. Stir thoroughly, allow to set for 10 minutes
  5. Enjoy within 48 hours, keep refrigerated

Red and Black Plums – some with red flesh, some with light gold flesh – are now in peak season from California.

 

Athena Cantaloupes

Peak Season    Best Flavor    Value Priced

Mmm… I love Cantaloupe. And “good” for me usually means Athena-style Cantaloupes! It’s the type of melon I grew up with, and that rich taste still brings back great memories of working on the farm. Athena’s are identifiable on the outside by the subtle ribs on the slightly oblong melon. Sometimes they’re sold as “Eastern Cantaloupes” or “Musk Melons.” As they ripen, you can smell them! – a pleasing tropical aroma starts to become pronounced. Inside the flesh is softer than other traditional Western Cantaloupes. They’re quite juicy, pleasingly sweet and flavorful.

Athena-style Cantaloupes are now in peak season from farms in Georgia and the next few weeks will be an excellent time to eat them. The fruit took longer than usual to ripen in the fields for those farmers, but here in late June the harvests are abundant and prices are falling. Eastern ‘Lopes are not popular or available everywhere, mostly because their soft flesh and high sugar content translates into shorter shelf-life at the store and at home. But in my book, I’d take great flavor over shelf-life any day!

Tips

  • Select Athena Cantaloupes with a straw color and plenty of webbing on the rind.
  • Avoid Athena Cantaloupes with: holes, soft spots, sunken areas, large smooth spots, stems still attached the fruit or a squishy feel.
  • Ripening: Most Eastern ‘Lopes are ready to eat right away. But I typically store Athena Cantaloupes at room temperature until the fruit emits a sweet tropical aroma and the end opposite the stem gives just slightly to thumb pressure. Refrigerate after cutting.
  • VIDEO: the difference between Eastern ‘Lopes and traditional Western Cantaloupes.
  • In late July and during August local Athena’s will be in season here in the Mid-Atlantic region.
  • Can’t find Athena Cantaloupes (Eastern Cantaloupes) but still want a melon with big flavor? Keep an eye out for in-season heirloom-type Tuscan-style Cantaloupes from Arizona and California.

Sweet and juicy Athena-style Cantaloupes are now in peak season from the Southeast. Ripe ones will emit a pleasing tropical aroma.

Local Beets

 Peak Season    Best Flavor

The early summer crop of Beets is now in season from rich, sandy soils of southern New Jersey along with other farms in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Red Beets, Gold Beets and Candy Stripe Beets (aka Chiogga Beets) with red and white swirls inside are being harvested daily and sold in bunches with the tops still on them. The loose beets are usually bigger but sold without the tops. Either way, this nutrient-packed root needs to be washed and peeled first. Beets are typically steamed or roasted and served over salad greens, paired with goat or flavored cream cheese, or matched with other roasted root vegetables. Those Beet greens (the tops) can be braised or sautéed just like a tender version of Chard.

Here is collection of Red Beet Recipes to check out.

MY CONFESSSION: I love root vegetables… except for Beets. Beets have a forward, earthy flavor that people tend to love or loathe. Unfortunately, I’ve been in the “loathe” camp since childhood, but have tried them a few times recently to make sure my taste buds (or my mind) haven’t changed. The taste of Beets has been described as “sweet dirt” – that is about as polite as I can be when talking about then. But for your sake, I hope you love Beets and can enjoy some here in late June and early July while the local crop is at its best! I actually do wish I liked them.

Candy Striped Beets with a swirl of red and white flesh are in peak season in the Mid-Atlantic, along with Gold Beets and Red Beets.

 

Seedless Mini Cucumbers

Peak Season    Value Priced

Snackable Veggie spot-deal alert!

Seedless Mini Cucumbers have become more popular with fresh veggie lovers and more readily available on produce department shelves recently. Why? You eat them whole! Sure you can cut the ends off, but really – no prep other than a quick rinse in water is needed. The skins on these 4-5” Cukes are thin and less bitter than field Cucumbers. The mild flavor and crunch will be appreciated by the whole family. Plus, they’re a seedless, juicy, healthy and fun snack.

Some large greenhouse growers just off Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada are into a bumper-crop of Seedless Mini Cucumbers here in late June and early July. Be on the lookout for advertised or in-store specials as growers help retailers move their harvest flush. Typically sold in tray packs or bags, you may find them branded as “Crunchers,” “Persian Pickles,” “One Sweet Mini Cucumbers” or “Mini Cukes.” Seedless Mini Cucumbers are perfect for crunchy snacking, veggie trays and quick “refrigerator pickle” recipes.

VIDEO: Seedless Mini Cucumber greenhouse tour.

Be on the look-out for some great in-store or advertised specials during late June and early July on convenient, snackable Seedless Mini Cucumbers!

Buy smart. Shop healthy.

The Produce Geek, Jonathan K. Steffy

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